joanna weiss

‘The Jeffersons’ showed Americans how to speak frankly about race

In honor of Sherman Hemsley, the gifted comic actor who died last week, I watched “The Jeffersons” for the first time since I was a kid. While I remembered the “Movin’ on Up” theme song word for word, I had forgotten many details of the show itself: George Jefferson’s roll-shake walk; his raunchy overtures to his wife, Louise; the way the show bravely talked about race.

Consider an episode that first aired in 1980 but flashed back to 1968, when George was applying for a minority loan to start his dry-cleaning business — on the same day Martin Luther King was killed. A white loan officer came to the Jeffersons’ Harlem apartment. As the man’s prejudice became apparent, George responded with a mix of righteous anger and sarcastic sitcom banter.

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